Calls to NMFOG hotline highlight transparency issues

          ALBUQUERQUE—The most frequent questions and compaints received on the New Mexico Foundation  for Open Government  hotline this year involve unreasonable charges for public records and videos,  incomplete meeting agendas and overuse of the law enforcement and personnel exceptions to  the Inspection of Public Records Act. (IPRA).

NMFOG also addressed a number of concerns about the inability of requestors to review public records without first paying for the records.

“It is clear under IPRA that the right to inspect records is separate from the right to seek copies of the records,” said attorney Greg Williams, president-elect of NMFOG.  “Often records are only available on a pubic entity’s computer, which means the record may need to be downloaded and copied in order for inspection to occur, but that does not mean the requesting party has to pay for the record, unless they specificially requet a copy.”

Attorneys from the New Mexico Attorney General’s office agree with NMFOG’s position on this issue and advise their own clients that as a public body they will have to pay for making the records accessible for review.

Although IPRA caps the amount a public body can charge for paper copies, electronic copies,  the cost of DVDs, CDs, thumbdrives, etc  must be “reasonable,” without any specific guidance or limits set forth in the statute.

Finally, Executive Director Susan Boe, a retired attorney, states that the so-called law enforcement exception” to IPRA only extends to confidential  sources, methods, information or individuals accused but not  charged with a crime in connection with a criminal investigation or prosecution.  “The key word in the exception is ‘confidential.’ Not all law enforcement methods, sources, etc. are confidential,” Ms. Boe said.

NMFOG has operated a toll-free hotline for a number of years that takes calls from 8:30-5 on weekdays.  About half of the callers are citizens, a number are journalists and about  5-10 percent of callers are public officials. The hotline number is 1-888-843-9121.

Most questions are answered by Ms. Boe, but she often receives assistance and advice from a volunteer group of attorneys which includes Greg Williams, Kip Purcell, Daniel Yohalem, Kent Walz, Chuck Peiffer and Marty Esquivel as well as NMFOG president Kathi Bearden, former editor/publisher of the Hobbs News Sun.

NMFOG averages one to two calls per day.  The following is an example of the hotline report prepared quarterly for the NMFOG Board of Directors.


Hotline Summary Report

 

Summary of January 17, 2014-March 24, 2014

 

Questions on Open Meetings Act:  26

–       Questions primarily include:

  • Closed meeting questions – what exceptions apply?
  • How detailed must agenda be?
  • How much discussion about items not on the agenda?
  • Do social gatherings constitute an open meeting? What about onsite visits?
  • How much time can I get during public comments?

 

Questions on Inspection of Public Records Act: 33

–       Questions primarily include:

  • How do I file an IPRA?
  • How much can I be charged for electronic records?
  • How do I get access to information that is only on a computer?
  • Can I make my own copies of records?
  • Should I have been denied access to these records?
  • Access to names of job applicants
  • Access to security tapes, video lapels
  • Can I obtain explanation for redacted information?

 

Access, public forum questions:  6

  • Can I be denied permission to speak during public forum?
  • Can I be denied right to photograph legislative committee hearings or photos in a public pool?
  • How does a public hearing for purposes of rulemaking differ from public comments during a public meeting?

 

 

Geography includes:

–       Albuquerque: 20

–       Angel Fire: 3

–       Bernalillo County: 2

–       Carlsbad: 1

–       Clovis: 2

–       Gallup: 3

–       Hobbs: 2

–       Las Cruces: 2

–       Las Vegas: 4

–       Los Alamos:  4

–       Rio Communities: 4

–       Raton:1

–       Rio Rancho:2

–       Roswell: 2

–       Ruidoso: 3

–       Rural New Mexico: 3

–       Santa Fe: 9

–       Taos: 3

 

Publications/Media inquiries have included 17 media outlets.